The Reagans hosted the best White House parties of all time

GettyFirst lady Nancy Reagan and former President Ronald Reagan hosted epic parties at the White House in the 1980s.
  • Presidents have always thrown parties at the White House, but no first couple threw better parties than President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan.
  • They were in the White House during a golden age of Hollywood, and his connections as a former star drew many notable names to their gatherings, from a young Meryl Streep to Audrey Hepburn.
  • Princess Diana’s famous blue evening gown she wore dancing at the White House with John Travolta in 1985 is now going up for auction, so you could own a piece of history – if you have more than $US300,000 to spare.
  • Visit for more stories.

For over two centuries, presidents and first ladies have welcomed guests to the White House for lavish parties. Some first families have been known for hosting awe-inspiring gatherings, while others were not expert entertainers.

But the presidential couple that stood out from the rest was former President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. The 40th President of the United States and his wife were known for throwing elegant, star-studded soirées.

Given his Hollywood connections, Reagan’s parties were filled with some of the biggest Hollywood celebrities, in an era when fabulous people reigned supreme.

Step inside the Reagan White House parties.

As the nation saw an increase in millionaires and billionaires, the Reagans hosted parties in gilded surroundings with superstar guests, such as Frank Sinatra.

APNancy dances with Frank Sinatra at her husband’s 70th birthday party, which about 100 friends of the president attended at the White House on February 7, 1981.

Source: AP

In this famous photo of Sinatra, Reagan cut in to dance with his wife.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryNancy and Frank dance at the president’s birthday party in the East Room on February 6, 1981.

Source: Town & Country

Keeping with tradition, the Reagans hosted foreign heads of state and dignitaries for special dinners at the White House. But some did criticise the Reagans fancy parties for being elitist.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryPrince Rainier of Monaco and Crown Prince Akihito of Japan were two notable head-of-state guests.

Source: Reagan Presidential Library

The events were largely inspired by the events put together by their predecessors John and Jackie Kennedy, who were also known for having famous guests over.

Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesFirst lady Jacqueline Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy host a dinner in honour of the Shah and Empress of Iran at the White House on April 11, 1962.

Source: Getty

When the Reagans arrived at the White House, they hired the Kennedys’ social secretary as a consultant.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryPresident Reagan and Nancy Reagan pose in the Red Room of the White House before attending the Inaugural Balls in Washington, DC on January 20, 1981.

Source: Town & Country

The guest list at the Reagan parties, which was usually under 100 people, included Gloria Vanderbilt, Brooke Astor, Clint Eastwood, Neil Diamond, Tom Selleck, John Travolta, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn — to name a few.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryHepburn and her date, actor Robert Wolders, catch up with Reagan at Prince Charles’ dinner in May 1981.

Sources: Town & Country, Washington Post, The New York Times

A young Meryl Streep also stopped by …

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryNancy Reagan shakes hands with Meryl Streep at a Kennedy Centre Honours Reception in the blue room.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

… as did comedian Joan Rivers …

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryPresident Reagan greets Joan Rivers at the State Visit of King Birendra Bir Kikram Shah Dev of Nepal in the east room.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

… and actor Sylvester Stallone.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryReagan dines with Stallone, his wife Sasha Czack, and Joan Clark during a White House party and showing of the film ‘Victory’ in the red room.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The Reagans and their guests dressed to the nines. Men often wore black ties, while women dressed up in designer ball gowns.

Ron Edmonds/APThe Reagans pose for photographs with Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and his wife Bernadette of France, before a State Dinner at the White House on March 31, 1987.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

In May 1981, the Reagans welcomed Prince Charles of Great Britain to the White House for a royal visit.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryReagan chats with Prince Charles in the Oval Office on May 1, 1981.

Source: Washington Post

The dining options were tough to beat. At the intimate private dinner, guests had asparagus, crab mousse, cheese twists, lamb, fennel, green beans, and sorbet.

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential LibraryFirst lady Nancy Reagan with Prince Charles before a private dinner for the Prince of Wales at the White House on May 2, 1981.

Source: Washington Post

In November 1981, the prince brought his new princess for an official state dinner.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryThe Reagans welcome the newly married royals to the White House.

Source: The New York Times

It was one of the Reagans most legendary dinner parties.

APPresident Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, centre, meet with Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, seen in this undated photo.

Sources: Town & Country, The New York Times

Celebrities were everywhere. Princess Di met actor Tom Selleck.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryNancy looks on as Princess Diana meets Tom Selleck.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

And the food sounded divine. The menu included Lobster mousse with Maryland crab, spicy glazed chicken, and peach sorbet.

APPrince Charles gives a toast during dinner on Nov. 9, 1985 as the first lady looks on.

Sources: Town & Country, The New York Times

The Reagans loved to dance with their guests after dinner.

APReagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dance during the final state dinner of his presidency at the White House on Nov. 16, 1988.

Source: Town & Country

In this iconic photograph, Princess Diana and John Travolta famously took a turn around the dance floor.

NARAPrincess Diana dances with John Travolta at a party at the Reagan White House on November 9, 1985. You can see the president and first lady in the background.

Sources: The Washington Post, People

The dress she wore was called the “Travolta Dress.” It sold at auction for over $US362,000 in 2013, and is up for auction again this month.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryTravolta twirls Princess Diana at the White House. He was at the height of his career at the time.

Sources: CNN, WWD

Nancy Reagan’s elegance may have been most evident in the china she selected. She ordered over 4,300 pieces of crimson china for state dinners that totaled $US209,000. That’s enough china for 220 guests to have a 19-piece place setting.

Lenox China Inc.

Sources: White House Historical Association, HouseBeautiful

Along with state dinners, the Reagans would host big birthday parties at the White House, too.

Courtesy Reagan Presidential LibraryThe president’s 70th Birthday party on February 6, 1981.

Source: Reagan Presidential Library

Not all of their parties were fancy.

APNancy holds Rex the dog with Larry Hagman dressed as Santa at the White House on Dec. 9, 1985. Hagman played J.R. Ewing on the television series ‘Dallas’.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

The Reagans also hosted picnics on the South Lawn.

APReagan points toward an entree as Nancy serves the president during the annual Congressional picnic on the lawn of the White House on Sept. 23, 1987.

Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

No matter the menu, guest list, or dress code, their parties looked legendary.

APThe Reagans proceed through the barbecue buffet at the White House on Sept. 23, 1987.

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